Another generation of great Irish playwrights is going full strength with the likes of Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh. Their ability to mix life’s dark side with fearless humor has never been more vividly demonstrated than in McDonagh”s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” Skokie’s Norhtlight Theatre will provide anyone heading to the north Chicago suburbs a taste of this dark humor and then some.
Born in London in 1970 to Irish parents, McDonagh made regular summer visits to Galway in Ireland, where he became acquainted the region’s dialect and dark humor. Inspired by his screenwriting brother, John Michael McDonagh,
and the bleak Irish humor of John Millington Synge, he burst onto playwriting scene with “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” in 1996. His writing career has won him recognition on both sides of the Atlantic that has included theater awards in both New York and London. His film work has won him a British Film Academy Award, an Oscar nomination and his live action short, “Six Shooter,” won an Oscar in 2005 – not a bad career for a writer not yet 40.
In “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” McDonagh brings the audience to the Aran islands in western Ireland to take on the various factions of the Irish Republican Army. Here a massive series of planned and unplanned killings between two IRA splinter groups is created by the death of a cat. Innocent people are dragged into this mess and the body count of humans and cats accumulate right up the final curtain. To top off the drama of this on-going body count, the whole series of events is peppered with one-liners and biting humor that almost makes you seem a bit embarrassed to laugh at such casual carnage. Leave it to McDonagh to justify this tactic and bring it off brilliantly as he savages the perpetrators of casual violence with his own brand of equally savage satire.
B. J. Jones’s directing reflects much of what was done in the staging on London’s West End and Broadway, and that is good news. His Chicago cast of Kelly O’Sullivan, Jamie Ableson, Cliff Chamberlain, Matt DeCaro, Keith Gallagher, John Judd and Andy Luther all are in step with the rhythms of the script. Cast and director seem to capture most of the nuances that made this play such a surprise hit since it was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2001. The Irish accents are there, but McDonagh’s wonderful one-liners are easy to understand and an off-stage master needs some mention.
Special effects director, Steve Tolin, gives a realistic but safe collection of corpses and gore worthy of the masters of this market. As the body count accumulates, you have to admire the realistically funny blood and guts on stage that makes you believe while you are enjoying that laugh you are trying to suppress.

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Jeff Nelson

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